#209: Circumstance (2011)

Love fools.

Such strict censorship laws from the authoritarian Islamic Republic mean that Iranian cinema is a highly contentious subject within the cinema industry. Fronted by the under-house arrest director Jafar Panahi,  it is incredibly commendable to see the new wave movement flourishing, even when the dissident filmmakers are at risk of being banned from making movies or ostracised from their homes altogether. Such provocation is exactly what American-Iranian director Maryam Keshavarz is grappling with in Circumstance, although to exploitative, trite and ultimately pathetic ends.

Instantly banned before reaching cinemas there, Circumstance wasn’t made in Iran either, shot instead in Beirut as a stand-in for Tehran, with a cast of expats all fluent in Farsi. Based on her own exilic experiences Iranian society, Keshavarz has a truthful story to tell and, unlike the fictional characters, she also has the freedom to tell it.

A transgression on the universal theme of teenage love, Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) and Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) are 16-year-old schoolgirls who share a passion for pop music, clubbing, drinking and, most incriminatingly, each other. The former is an orphan still stained by her deceased parents’ revolutionary writing. The latter is somewhat a rebellious Iranian herself, a lover of hip-hop and, surprisingly, Bonnie Tyler. The inseparable pair have a closeness that’s forbidden in Iran; away from domineering males, they caress, kiss, and dream of escape from their oppressive realities. Subtly depicted by Keshavarz with a focus on tangible corporeality, there’s close-ups of intertwined flesh, and red lips on red fingernails, an exotic physicality far removed from their hajib-veiled modesty in the male dominated realms they inhabit.

Redacting my initially snooty response to an Iranian-set film filmed outside of Iran, Keshavarz captures the rebellious city milieu with acute, lived-in detail. Vivaciously shot by D.P. Brian Rigney Hubbard, the youth-populated subcultures of Tehran hanging out in makeshift, drug fuelled nightclubs; where people dress and act outside of the nation’s austere exterior. Such realism doesn’t stretch quite as far with Circumstance‘s secondary characters however, with Atafeh’s parents as the hapless ‘liberals’ and the escalating drama stemming from the arrival of her brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) is lavishly expressed. A failed musician just out of rehab, replacing hard drugs with muslim fundamentalism.

The unwelcome return of Mehran is exactly where Keshavarz starts losing her way with Circumstance. Without any dramatic explanation or insight into his previous, incriminating life, Mehran’s embrace of hardline Sharia law is nothing more than a creaky plot device to quash the girls’ love forever. Circumstance plummets down into melodrama even further, when he completes his transition from beaten-down recovering junkie to malevolent monster who – unbeknownst to them – spends his days spying on his family with security cameras. With these hokey thriller-narrative divergencies, the film quickly moves away from the personal and tragic love story we started with, losing grip of reality and political potency in the process.

Circumstance inharmoniously blends naturalism with increasingly unhinged melodrama. The result is titillating and, on the most part, entertaining, but a cruel disservice to the hefty subject of transgressive Islamic society which Keshavarz is shouting out about from the comfort of her New York home.

★★☆☆☆☆
IMDb it.

Circumstance is part of the film programme for Liverpool Pride 2012. There are also screenings running throughout the week at the ICA in London. You might find it on DVD in Region 1 somewhere too, if you’re absolutely desperate to see it.

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#163: A Moment of Innocence (1996)

Flowery Naan.

An Iranian film isn’t an Iranian film without some Iranians and political provocation. With virtually all of his motion pictures banned in his native homeland, director Makhmalbaf has built up a reputation for both blatant and covert social commentary in his films. 1996’s A Moment of Innocence (previously known as Bread & Flour) is no exception. A tender autobiographical story of a teenage rebel and a law enforcing policeman, it’s a shame that A Moment of Innoncence gets a little caught up in poetics to really drive home the political pertinency.

Review? Click it.

★★★☆☆☆
IMDb it.

137: Taste of Cherry (1997)

Come drive with me, let’s drive, let’s drive away.

Through all it’s dirt, dust and desolate setting, Kiarostami’s Palme d’Or winning Taste of Cherry is something of mercurial beauty.

Mr Badii is a man on the cusp of living. With a plan to overdose on sleeping pills and fall under his favourite fruit tree that evening, he spends his day driving around Tehran desperately trying to find someone willing to help him complete his eternal wish.

I apologise if my somewhat haphazard review fails to convince you of its brilliance. I’ll summarise in short by saying that, a week on and nine films later,I haven’t been able to shake Taste of Cherry’s minimalist portrayal of universal themes compassion and the preciousness of life. Affecting cinema at it’s finest.

★★★★★☆
IMDb it.

041: A Separation (2011)

I’m not ashamed to admit that this is my first experience with Iranian cinema, and what a fantastic starting point! Farhadi’s fifth feature is a gruelling take on two distinct Tehranian families, the conflict towards each other and the tensions from within.

Most refreshing, and perhaps testament to it’s renowned, academy award success, the film surpasses it’s country of origin and the ignorant ‘world cinema’ category through the universal theme of human morality. Less about the separation between arbitrary truths and lies, Farhadi questions why we spin such yarns and their benefits in the first place.

Beautiful, real, and unforgettable. Do believe the hype.

THE GOOD: Even with subtitles, the dialogue is nigh-on perfect and emotionally clawing.

THE BAD: Like my mother, some may find this too close to the bone and painfully honest. I cried, she cried, we all cried.

★★★★★

IMDb it.

PS – So, where do I go from here with Iranian cinema? Suggestions up above.